Questionable calls sink La Salle

PHILADELPHIA >> It’s a game that will likely be forever remembered for one questionable officials’ call.

At least that’s what La Salle’s football team will probably recall from Saturday afternoon’s 16-13 overtime loss to Parkland in the PIAA Class AAAA Eastern semfinal playoff game at Northeast High School.

Trailing, 10-7, in the game’s closing minutes, the Trojans, losers of three consecutive Eastern semifinals entering the contest, faced fourth down and four from the Explorers 30-yard line. Quarterback Devante Cross, looking for 6-foot-5 Kenny Yeboah along the sideline, threw the ball a good 10 feet over Yeboah’s head. But as Yeboah reached for the ball he made contact with La Salle defender Isaiah Jones, and a flag was thrown.

The call, for defensive pass interference, gave Parkland a first down at the La Salle 15-yard line. A flag on the Explorers coaches for protesting too vehemently soon followed and Parkland had a first down at the La Salle 7-yard line.

Four plays later, placekicker Donovan Berger nailed a 20-yard field goal with 41 seconds left on the fourth-quarter clock to force overtime.

In the extra session, Parkland countered La Salle’s field goal with a touchdown run by Cross, bedlam ensued and Parkland advanced to next weekend’s Eastern final against Upper Dublin, a 46-21 winner over North Penn, at a site and time to be determined.

To his credit, La Salle head coach John Steinmetz took the high road.

“Hey, the official made the call,” Steinmetz said. “I know there’s no such thing as an uncatchable ball in high school, but it looked like something they could have ignored.”

“I felt it was a penalty,” said Parkland head coach Jim Morgans. “We got some penalties and they got some penalties, it just seemed theirs came when it meant something in the game.”

La Salle jumped on top on its first drive, which began with a 15-yard run by Nick Rinella and ended with a flat pass from quarterback Chris Ferguson that Rinella turned into a 35-yard touchdown.

Rinella then outleaped the 6-foot-5 Yeboah to intercept a Cross pass on Parkland’s first play from scrimmage, but the Explorers could not take advantage.

The Trojans’ first multi-play drive lasted 13 snaps, but the final one resulted in an interception by Explorer Jared Walls on the goal line that keep La Salle in front.

But after forcing a three-and-out by La Salle, the Trojans went 79 yards on 13 plays, with Cross finding the end zone from eight yards out to knot the score going into halftime.

The score remained deadlocked at 7 until early in the fourth quarter, when the Explorers got it going at their own 25-yard line after taking over following a punt.

Passes of 26 yards and 22 yards from Ferguson to Winston Eubanks and Rinella, respectively, helped push La Salle into Trojans territory, then a strike to Charles Headen got the Explorers to the Trojans 13.

But three plays later the home team was only as far as the Parkland 9, and the Explorers had to settle for a 26-yard Matt Savage field goal to take a 10-7 lead with 4:56 left in the fourth quarter.

Parkland stormed down the field quickly, but appeared to stall at the La Salle 30.

That’s when fate and a couple yellow flags intervened.

The ending was not what the Explorers were hoping for, but the season, Rinella said, was a resounding success.

“It was a winnable game, and penalties killed us,” the senior said. “But what we did this year means the world to us. There were people at the beginning of the year who said we’d be lucky to win three games.”

Meanwhile, on the other sidelines, Morgans and the Trojans were waiting to celebrate an long-overdue trip to the Eastern finals.

“We got over the hump,” the coach said. “That’s all the kids talked about doing this week.

“La Salle is a real potent football team, and to beat them is huge.”

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